An 8 out of 10 Trifle

I can confirm that the trifle – homemade – is alive and kicking! Forget those dreadful synthetic things that are re-hydrated with some boiling water and then layered up over several weeks before serving. My mum would always serve these trifles and I hated them…awful soggy sponge, the out-of-place jelly and dream topping scattered with Hundreds and Thousands (ok, so the kitsch lover in me can forgive those).
The perverse thing is that these chemical trifles always, without absolute fail, were a massive hit at whatever celebration my mum was making them for: birthdays, Christmas, anniversaries – they were the gaudy centrepiece and the most eagerly anticipated dessert of all. Me, I would be stuck with a bowl of ice cream because “I’m not making two desserts just because you don’t like trifle, everyone else likes trifle.” It would suit me just fine to nurse a bowl of vanilla ice cream whilst everyone tucked into the mish-mash of jelly, sponge and synthetic cream.
I think what people love about trifle, whether it is a lovingly made homemade one, served in your grandmothers Victorian cut-glass dish or a packet mix served in a large plastic bowl (or vice versa), is that it encompasses every sweet ingredient that makes people salivate: a hint of vanilla, squidgy custard, smooth, cool whipped cream, jam or fruit, and sponge cake. One can imagine that the trifle was devised to satisfy every palate: the Italians have sophisticated Zuppa Inglese and Tiramisu, Mexicans have Ante de Yemas, and there is even an Indian Trifle (which Mrs Beeton noted in the mid-19th Century when Indian food was all the rage) that is scented with Cardomom and set with rice flour. And you can further rely on the Victorians to elevate the trifle from a simple layered dessert into a multi-strata piece of confectionary architecture standing several feet high on tables laden with dressed peacocks and stuffed pigs bladders.
But then came the nadir of the trifle as I knew it: Birds Trifle Mix. I knew, just knew, that I would show them all. One day.
And that day came, some 25 years after I first tasted and rejected a packet made trifle.
A trifle is a very British dish, like Blancmange and Spotted Dick. I thought it might be fun to make one for a buffet that my mother was preparing for the American side of our family. So, with several cookbooks clutched in my sweaty palms I set to work. I had blackberries in the freezer, picked in the summer when the hedgerows were laden with fruit, so I simmered the shiny purple berries with some sugar and meddlar jam. I used more of the meddlar jam (I had bought a jar of it from a local delicatessen some months ago and never even opened it) to sandwich together some Saviordi biscuits (aka Ladyfingers), which I layered in the bottom of the dish and then dyed and smothered with the glossy mauve jam.
This naturally fruity layer is then blanketed with a thick creamy swathe of vanilla infused custard (made with no less than 8 organic egg yolks, 75g vanilla sugar and 300ml each of Double Cream and Full Fat Milk. And the dried up and reused vanilla pod from my jar of sugar) and topped with a pure white alpine peak of whipped cream and Mascarpone cheese. The fruit layer of this ethereal confection was pointed with a crumbling of Amaretti biscuits and a good slug of Kirsch (used for the second time this week as my ‘secret ingredient’ – the first was in Cranberry Sauce) and the whole thing was decorated with more crushed biscuits and some toasted flaked almonds.
Suffice to say – unlike Christmas Cake – the blackberry trifle was devoured within minutes. And as a special early New Years treat, I allowed my mums dogs to share in the trifle-y goodness. Everyone was happy. My granddad - the ever critical sage - even gave it 8 out of 10.
700g Blackberries (or the soft fruit of your choice, I just had blackberries in the freezer)
50g Sugar
50g Jam (I used Meddlar for reasons noted above. Any complimentary jam could be used), plus extra for the sponge fingers
16 Saviordy biscuits
8 Amaretti biscuits crushed
Kirsch (optional)
8 Egg yolks
75g caster sugar or vanilla infused caster sugar
600ml Double cream 300ml reserved for topping
300ml Full fat milk
1 Vanilla pod
100g Mascapone cheese
20g icing sugar
1tsp Vanilla extract
Sandwich together the Saviordi Biscuits with the jam, in pairs. Layer in the bottom of the trifle dish.
Make the jam: in a large saucepan, simmer the fruit with the jam and sugar until softened and syrupy. Taste for sweetness and add more sugar if required. It shouldn’t as the jam will be very sweet anyway. Leave to cool slightly and pour over the sponge fingers. Sprinkle with half the crumbled Amaretti Biscuits and sprinkle with some Kirsch, to your own personal taste. Refrigerate until cold.
Make the custard: Heat the cream and milk in a large saucepan with a vanilla pod. Whisk together the egg yolks and sugar. Pour over the heated milk and cream and whisk well. Pour back into the pan (which has been rinsed) and heat gently over a low heat until thickened. As a safety net, fill the sink with cold water. If the mixture starts to resemble scrambled eggs, quickly stand the pan in the water and whisk like the fury. It should come back to smoothness again. The custard should take around 10-15 minutes to thicken. It will not thicken to the degree that packet custards do, that congealing mouth coating thickness but more of a evaporated milk thickness. As the old saying goes, it will coat the back of a wooden spoon. Leave to cool slightly then, before a skin forms, pour over the cooled purple layer.
Cover with clingfilm and chill overnight if possible but at least for 12 hours.
Finally, whip the double cream until softly peaking, stir in the Mascapone Cheese, icing sugar and vanilla extract. Combine well.
Because the custard will not be really firm, you will need to spoon the creamy topping on and then spread gently with a pallet knife. Sprinkle with the remaining Amaretti Biscuits and toasted flaked almonds and serve!


Kathryn said...

Wow!!!! That looks fantastic, Freya. I should confess that trifle was something I literally couldn't stomach for years and now I still don't like the idea of it but yours looks delish. I could become a convert!

We are staying in and having a lovely dinner tonight. I'll be posting details tomorrow, no doubt... Better go cook now...

Have a fun evening!

Kathryn x

FreyaE said...

Hi Kathryn! This recipe converted me too. I think if you put in ingredients that you know you like, it should be fairly failsafe!
How did the dinner go?
Freya x

Shaun said...

Freya - I'm swooning. Blackberry trifle sounds like a dream. My mother, like yours, always contributes a trifle, among other things, to the family Christmas lunch in New Zealand, and it always goes down well. The only pre-made thing she buys is the jelly mix, I think. I balk at the notion of her rehydrating custard...surely she doesn't. Will have to ask. Trifle brings back fond memories for me, and yours has inspired me to update this Brit classic, too. It's been years since Eric last had one...